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Sharing Extraordinary Events can Hurt Social Life

Update Date: Oct 06, 2014 12:50 PM EDT

Even though sharing information is key to building social relationships, a new study is reporting that the type of information that people reveal can either positively or negatively affect these relationships. According to the researchers, people who share information about the extraordinary events that they have experienced can end up hurting their social life.

"Extraordinary experiences are pleasurable in the moment but can leave us socially worse off in the long run," psychological scientist and study author Gus Cooney of Harvard University explained according to the press release. "The participants in our study mistakenly thought that having an extraordinary experience would make them the star of the conversation. But they were wrong, because to be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities."

For this study, Cooney and colleagues from Harvard University and the University of Virginia recruited 68 participants who were randomly divided into groups of four. Within each group, one person had to watch a highly rated video of a street magician whereas the remaining three people watched a lower-rated video. The participants were instructed to converse for five-minutes. They were aware of the videos that the other group members watched.

The team conducted two additional studies that asked people what they think the group members felt during the discussion. People believed that the participants who watched the highly rated video would feel better than the other members. People also believed that people who watched the highly rated video would talk more and feel included during the conversation portion.

At the end of the unstructured conversation, the researchers discovered that, contrary to what people believed, participants who watched the highly rated video, the "extraordinary experiencers," reported more negative feelings than the people who watched the lower-rated video. Instead, the team concluded that even though extraordinary experiences might be rewarding, they could also isolate one from a larger group.

"When choosing between experiences, don't just think about how they will feel when they happen - think about how they will impact your social interactions," said Cooney. "If an experience turns you into someone who has nothing in common with others, then no matter how good it was, it won't make you happy in the long run."

The study was published in the Association for Psychological Science's journal, Psychological Science.

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